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Report: Rikers Island "Enhanced Supervision Housing for Young Adults" Problematic

by Derek Gilna

On July 24, 2017, the New York City Board of Correction (BOC) released a report titled, "Enhanced Supervision Housing for Young Adults," which highlighted the challenges to eliminating injustices at the Rikers Island jail complex. According to that report, "This assessment builds upon the Board of Correction’s (“Board”) Assessment of Enhanced Supervision Housing (ESH) for Adults released in April 2017 and offers a specific analysis of ESH implementation for the young adult (“YA”) population (18 through 21 year olds)."

BOC spokesman Peter Throne called the EHS program a success: "Enhanced Supervision Housing has allowed New York City to be the first in the nation to eliminate punitive segregation for young adults. It separates the most violent young adult inmates from the general population, while at the same time offering them educational opportunities. The level of security provided by these housing units allows even our most violence-prone young adults the chance to learn."

Prison Legal News (PLN) has run numerous articles relating to the mismanagement of Rikers Island, and the mistreatment of young adults who had the misfortune to be confined in that facility. The State of New York and the City of New York, under intense pressure of numerous law suits and relentless negative publicity, has indicated that it intends to eliminate solitary confinement for youthful offenders, but the study outlines numerous problems that the new changes have caused, as well as many instances that the so-called reforms are not being carried out.

One of the biggest problems identified by the study was the use of "restraint desks," which are designed to permit prisoners who might otherwise be confined to their cell, so that they might participate in institutional programming. The other problem is that,  "For a variety of reasons, including—lockdowns, the lockout schedule, operational issues related to staffing and management, safety concerns, and a general lack of engagement—most young adults are spending nearly all day locked in their cells rather than the minimum 7 hours provided for under the ESH Standards." As a result, "participation in programming, recreation, and mental health services has been very low."

The study also noted that some individuals managed to escape their restraint desks and beat other prisoners who were still restrained and could not defend themselves.

According to Dr. Bobby Cohen, who is a member of the N.Y. Board of Corrections, Rikers' continued problems in carrying out the promised improvements of prisoner conditions: "When the Board voted to end solitary confinement for men and women under 22, we did not vote to chain people to desks. The Department of Correction misrepresents reality when it says that shackling men's legs and chaining them together so they can't move is not punishment."

"As a doctor," he said, "I know it is harmful. It is degrading. It is unsafe, and it should stop now."

The report recommended that the ESH managers more regularly audit compliance with ESH standards , track program participation, and track school attendance. It also suggested that administrators work to transition youthful prisoners from restraint desks to less restrictive forms of confinement. 



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